Wingnut
See more of the story

There is a new edition of the Peterson field guide to birds of North America.

It’s not an update of the pocket-sized guide I bought in 1961. Those books are history, even if they remain on my shelves. This is a second, improved edition of the newer larger format, for me more a reference book than a guide to be used in the field.

Otherwise, this edition is as familiar as an old friend. It is an old friend, wearing new clothes.

The bright and larger illustrations have been “touched up,” according to the publishers, but they look exactly like Roger Tory Peterson originals. For those of us who for years used older editions, they are birding comfort food.

All of the illustrations in the new edition are in color. Early on, if anyone other than me remembers, some plates were black and white. This edition has updated range maps. The text has been substantially rewritten, tightened up, with most of Peterson’s conversational comments gone. The text is efficient and to the point.

Peterson’s revolutionary trade-mark arrows indicating definitive points of plumage remain. This wouldn’t be a Peterson guide without them.

There is a much larger checklist for recording sightings. My original book, rebound because I wore it out, had a cramped list on which I recorded date and locations of first-sightings in a tight, tiny hand.

The new book has the requisite how-to-identify-birds information, offered in an abbreviated, simplified, easy-to-use format. Less is more.

In both front and the back of the book is a list of the numbers of the first page where the bird in question is found, a quick-reference feature until you learn where your bird is nesting in the book’s 500+ pages. Birds of Hawaii are here. The very useful silhouettes of common birds perched and in flight are here. There is an index. The cover can be wiped dry if needed.

(I once dropped one of my early Peterson editions in a swampy spot at High Island in Texas, a spring migrant hot spot. It survived. I still own four Petersons, all of the smaller size, including the muddy one. I once had a first edition. Can’t find it. I hope I sold it.)

Peterson, who died in 1996, would be pleased with this new book, I think. It's an improved guide to identifying birds, and that was his intent back in 1934 when his first guide was published.

From that point forward we all were better birders, thanks to RTP. Still works that way.

This book goes on sale April 7 for $27. It is available as an e-book.